The best books on extinct animals

Why am I passionate about this?

I write about those people (geologists, art historians, historians, and curators), places (museums, universities, and societies), and things (fossils, paintings, and historical artifacts) that shape our understanding of the world. I am not so much interested in the history of ideas as in the very nature of art, geology, history, and the museum. And like my recommended authors, the approach I take to my subjects is, I hope, always rather novel. In The Great Fossil Enigma, for example, I felt that the tiny, suggestive, but ultimately ambiguous, nature of the fossils permitted me to see into the scientific mind. This tends to be where extinct animals live after their demise. 


I wrote...

The Great Fossil Enigma: The Search for the Conodont Animal

By Simon J. Knell,

Book cover of The Great Fossil Enigma: The Search for the Conodont Animal

What is my book about?

This book tells the story of a scientific journey of twists and turns through assertions and denials, past alien monsters and incoming asteroids, through a world of unexpected discoveries and real utility, which ultimately arrives at an animal that, rather surprisingly, seems to say something about our own ancestry. The fossils were so small, that really seeing them was no easy matter. Indeed, the millions of these things present in collections around the world today might, if poured like so many grains of sand, fit into a few shoe boxes. For more than 150 years, the conodont was science’s El Dorado. It remains arguably the most disputed creature in the zoological world. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Cave Bear Story: Life and Death of a Vanished Animal

Simon J. Knell Why did I love this book?

This classic book hooked me on page one. Björn Kurtén’s curiosity soon becomes your curiosity and before long you are thinking like a paleontologist. It may be an old book, but the author’s thinking remains modern. Indeed, a recent review of cave bear research suggests that our knowledge of these animals hasn’t changed all that much since Kurtén’s day. I love old geology books. Beautifully written, they enable you to discover, imagine, and ultimately to care about an animal that exists only as a pile of bones. This book proved to be very influential.

By Björn Kurtén,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cave Bear Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Combining ?biography and intellectual history, Steven Rockefeller offers an illuminating introduction to the philosophy of John Dewey, with special emphasis on the evolution of the religious faith and moral vision at the heart of his thought. This study pays particular attention to Dewey's radical democratic reconstruction of Christianity and his many contributions to the American tradition of spiritual democracy. Rockefeller presents the first full exploration of Dewey's religious thought, including its mystical dimension. Covering Dewey's entire intellectual life, the author provides a clear introduction to Dewey's early neo-Hegelian idealism as well as to his later naturalistic metaphysics, epistemology, theory of…


Book cover of Tyrannosaurus Sue: The Extraordinary Saga of the Largest, Most Fought Over T. Rex Ever Found

Simon J. Knell Why did I love this book?

Fiffer describes himself as a lawyer, journalist, and author. For the story he tells, these turn out to be perfect qualifications because he is not so much interested in telling the reader about the animal as in the scandal and intrigue that surrounded the discovery of this now-famous museum specimen. A fast-paced tale of unexpected twists and turns, when the FBI appears you start to wonder if you haven’t slipped into the pages of a David Baldacci thriller. It's a great true story and one likely to raise your eyebrows.

By Steve Fiffer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tyrannosaurus Sue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1990, the skeleton of a battle-scarred Tyrannosaurus rex matriarch was found, virtually complete, in what many call the most spectacular dinosaur fossil discovery to date. Not just another dinosaur book, Tyrannosaurus Sue is a fascinating introduction to the centuries-old history of commercial fossil hunting, a legal thriller and a provocative look at academic versus commercial science and the chase for the money that fuels both. - Steve Fiffer, an attorney who has followed the story for the past seven years, has captured the whole range of characters and issues embroiled in the fight for Sue. Fiffer communicates both the…


Book cover of Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

Simon J. Knell Why did I love this book?

A brilliant evolutionary paleontologist, Gould was one of science’s great disruptors, frequently calling on his peers to rethink old thoughts. He was also one of America’s great popularizers of natural history. When first published, this book was described as ‘a masterpiece of analysis and imagination’ and its author ‘the finest scientific essayist writing today’. In Wonderful Life, Gould explores the discovery and interpretation of those strange animals that inhabited Earth when complex life first evolved. He also uses the book to develop his own controversial thesis about the development of life. The book remains a great work of non-fiction. It perfectly captures that unique combination of erudition and showmanship that was Stephen Jay Gould. 

By Stephen Jay Gould,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Wonderful Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It hold the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived-a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history.


Book cover of The Fate of the Mammoth: Fossils, Myth, and History

Simon J. Knell Why did I love this book?

Reviewers of The Great Fossil Enigma thought that book strange. If they tried to think of a book like it, then they alighted on this one. I don’t see much similarity, but I do think Cohen’s book is strange. Her first paragraph is a single sentence of just seven words. It is: ‘This is not a book about mammoths.’ That sentence isn’t quite true because the book is about mammoths, but Cohen uses these animals as a pretext for a much grander history of science. The approach couldn’t be more different from the other books on my list. 

By Claudine Cohen, William Rodarmor (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fate of the Mammoth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From cave paintings to the latest Siberian finds, woolly mammoths have fascinated people across Europe, Asia and North America for centuries. Remains of these enormous prehistoric animals were among the first fossils to be recognized as such, and they have played a crucial role in the birth and development of paleontology. In this lively, wide-ranging look at the fate of the mammoth, Claudine Cohen reanimates this large mammal with heavy curved tusks and shaggy brown hair through its history in science, myth and popular culture. Cohen uses the mammoth and the theories that naturalists constructed around it to illuminate wider…


Book cover of Extinct Birds

Simon J. Knell Why did I love this book?

In 2000, Errol Fuller published an entirely new, lavishly illustrated, edition of his 1987 book, Extinct Birds. In the years since it was first published more birds had been lost while others he had described as extinct had subsequently been rediscovered. Extinct Birds documents 85 species that have disappeared since 1600, including the Eskimo Curlew and Choiseul Crested Pigeon, as well as the more famous Passenger Pigeon, Great Auk, and Dodo. All are now dead and gone (probably!). A book of fascinating, if ultimately sad, tales, and beautiful pictures, it should encourage us to care about those species now on the edge of extinction like the Kakapo, the Kiwi, and the massively poached African Grey Parrot.

By Errol Fuller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Extinct Birds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shows and describes what is known about extinct species of waterfowl, rails, gulls, pigeons, parrots, cuckoos, owls, and perching birds


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Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

Book cover of Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

Sam Baldwin Author Of Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an Englishman who fell in love with a 300-year-old former sausage curing hut on the side of a Slovenian mountain in 2007. After years of visits spent renovating the place, I moved to Slovenia, where I lived and worked for many years, exploring the country, customs, and culture, learning some of the language, and visiting its most beautiful places. I continue to be enamored with Slovenia, and you will regularly find me at my cabin, making repairs and splitting firewood.

Sam's book list on books about Slovenia

What is my book about?

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house, but what was meant as a pitstop becomes life-changing when he decides to stay. Along the way, he meets a colourful cross-section of Slovene society: from dormouse hunters, moonshine makers, beekeepers, and bitcoin miners, to a man who swam the Amazon, and a hilltop matriarch who…

Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

What is this book about?

'Charming, funny, insightful, and moving. The perfect book for any Slovenophile' - Noah Charney, BBC presenter

'A rollicking and very affectionate tour' - Steve Fallon, author of Lonely Planet Slovenia

'Delivers discovery and adventure...captivating!' - Bartosz Stefaniak, editor, 3 Seas Europe

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house but what was meant as…


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Interested in extinction, South Dakota, and British Columbia?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about extinction, South Dakota, and British Columbia.

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